From a purely military viewpoint, the air strikes by the United States and Britain on five Iraqi command and control targets on Friday may make good sense. The two countries continue to fly routine patrols to enforce the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, which were imposed following the end of the Gulf War. It is therefore almost inevitable that the imposition of these zones will be challenged from time to time by Saddam Hussein; and it is also inevitable that if US and British pilots detect a threat, they will act in self-defence. If officials in Washington and London are to be believed - and past experience of Saddam's actions make their claims highly likely - then the allies were pushed into a military strike by the presence of a much-increased threat to their aircraft and pilots over recent weeks. It will take some time before an assessment of the raids' success can be made; but initial indications suggest that the long-range, precision-guided missiles reached their targets successfully. It will take a little longer, however, to assess the more important political effects of the attacks. It may well emerge that, politically, they will prove to be counter-productive, increasing tension in the region and galvanising opposition to the West and Israel. Already precarious hopes of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians now look even more forlorn. Domestically, US President George W. Bush is likely to gain in stature as a result of the decisive military strikes, which clearly spell out that his administration will continue - and perhaps even ratchet up a level - the tough American line on Iraq. Nevertheless, there is a danger that the US and Britain could now find themselves in a weaker position when arguing for an intensification of sanctions against Iraq - US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who visits the Gulf this week, has talked about the need to 're-energise' the 10-year-old sanctions. Strong opposition among many Arab states already exists. And air strikes on Iraq - long-opposed by the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: China, Russia and France - will only increase opposition. No doubt Saddam's forces were ordered to intensify attacks on British and US jets specifically to provoke the response that took place. And events may reveal that he acted with a wily sense of timing; for, while he remains ineffective militarily against the US and Britain, Saddam could yet gain the more important political advantage.